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Browne, Eyles Irwin Caulfield (1819–1886)

by Nan Phillips

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Eyles Irwin Caulfield Browne (1819-1886), solicitor, politician and newspaper proprietor, was born on 24 June 1819 at Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, son of Eyles Browne, army surgeon, and his wife Mary, née Irwin. After a broad education he studied law and then practised as a solicitor at Bath, Gloucester and Kidderminster. In 1853 at Stow he married Mary Ann Rebecca, daughter of Thomas Morris, a Staffordshire ironmaster, whose fourth daughter married Judge George Harding.

In February 1857 Browne sailed with his wife and daughter for Sydney where he practised briefly before moving to Newcastle. In 1860 he went to Brisbane and in partnership with Robert Little, crown solicitor, built up a powerful firm. As crown solicitor Little found the increase of work too much for the small staff which he shared with the attorney-general; the firm had offices in the same building and in October 1867 Little successfully proposed that Little & Browne be engaged by the government for civil actions. Some resentment was roused by the scale of charges: in debating the native birds protection bill, Boyd Morehead repeatedly demanded the inclusion of the lawyer bird, which he defined as 'Little and Browne with a very long bill'. In August 1880 the propriety of the crown solicitor's 'dual role' was questioned in parliament; he was alleged to have hindered land transfers in order to obtain business for Little & Browne and to have used against certain clients confidential information they had given to the firm. In October a select committee upheld Little's honesty. Little later resigned from the firm, now Little, Browne & Ruthning. Browne left the firm in 1884.

In 1863-82 Browne was a nominated member of the Legislative Council. Although busy with his practice he regularly attended the council and was active in debates. He often had to explain legislation coming from the assembly, especially bills on legal subjects. His trenchant criticism of loosely drafted legislation and his knowledge of English Statutes and legal procedures won him much respect. Jealous of the privileges of the Legislative Council he argued that without independence it was 'nothing but a mere court of registry for the Acts of the other House'. He acted several times as chairman of committees, sat on select committees and for nineteen years served on the library committee. Worried by the colony's precarious finances, he voted for delay in building the new Parliament House and deplored hasty proposals to build railways which could pay only a fraction of the high interest on the borrowed capital. He had little sympathy with the squatters and their constant pleas for financial help, maintaining that their large holdings hindered development and much-needed immigration; he later predicted that sugar-growing and other industries would become the colony's mainstays.

Browne was said to be 'a great reader and thinker' who 'would have made a fine journalist if he had not devoted himself to law'. He entered the press world in 1873 when with Gresley Lukin and W. Thornton, he formed the Brisbane Newspaper Co. and bought the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander for £15,000. Lukin was editor and managing director from 1873 to 1880, when his insolvency led to a personal attack on Browne in the Legislative Council by members opposed to the newspapers' support of the government. Although in poor health Browne went to the council and successfully defended himself against the charge of being a partner in Lukin's land activities and therefore liable for half his debts. Lukin sold his interest in the Courier in 1880 to Charles Buzacott but Browne retained his share until 1886.

Unable to walk without difficulty, Browne gradually withdrew from public life, spending most of his time at Kingsholme, near New Farm. His daughter had married Sir Ralph Gore in 1876; they accompanied her parents to England in 1884 and returned to Queensland early next year. Browne's health continued to decline and he died on 17 June 1886 survived by his wife and daughter. He was buried in Toowong cemetery and left an estate valued at £50,000.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisb, 1927)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1862-80
  • A. G. Davies, ‘Queensland's Pioneer Journals and Journalists’, Journal(Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 4, 1944-45, pp 265-83
  • C. Lack, ‘A Century of Brisbane Journalism’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 4, no 4, Dec 1951, pp 471-93
  • J. D. O'Hagan, ‘Fragments of Legal History in Queensland from 1853 Onwards’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 5, no 2, 1954, pp 907-29
  • Brisbane Courier, 18 June 1886.

Citation details

Nan Phillips, 'Browne, Eyles Irwin Caulfield (1819–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/browne-eyles-irwin-caulfield-3083/text4559, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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